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UPDATED: 10:06, September 30, 2005
DeLay indicted; Troubles mounting for Bush
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A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Representative Tom DeLay, one of the most powerful US politicians, with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing him to relinquish his post as majority leader of the House of Representatives. A defiant DeLay insisted he was innocent and called the prosecutor a "fanatic."

DeLay, a conservative Republican, is the first House leader to be indicted while in office in at least a century, according to congressional historians. He was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two political associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

The indictment accused DeLay, 58, of a conspiracy to violate Texas election law, which prohibits use of corporate donations to advocate the election or defeat of political candidates. The alleged scheme worked in a roundabout way, with the donations going to a DeLay-founded political committee, then to the Republican National Committee and eventually to Republican candidates in Texas

"I have done nothing wrong... I am innocent," DeLay told a Capitol Hill news conference in which he criticized the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, repeatedly. DeLay called Earle an "unabashed partisan zealot" and a "fanatic."

In Austin, Texas, Earle told reporters, "Our job is to prosecute abuses of power and to bring those abuses to the public."

The indictment against the second-ranking and most assertive Republican leader is expected to have immediate consequences in the House, where DeLay is largely responsible for winning passage of the Republican legislative programme.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush still considers DeLay a friend and effective leader in Congress. "Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people," McClellan said. "I think the president's view is that we need to let the legal process work."

Republicans selected Representative Roy Blunt, the current Republican whip No 3 in the leadership ranks to fill the vacancy temporarily.

DeLay retains his seat representing suburbs southwest of Houston.

If convicted of criminal conspiracy, DeLay could be sentenced to six months to two years in a state jail and receive a fine of up to US$10,000. The potential two-year sentence forced DeLay to step down under House Republican rules.

Kevin Madden, DeLay's spokesman, dismissed the charge as politically motivated. "This indictment is nothing more than prosecutorial retribution by a partisan Democrat," Madden said, citing prosecutor Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

Madden later added: "They could not get Tom DeLay at the polls. They could not get Mr DeLay on the House floor. Now they're trying to get him into the courtroom. This is not going to detract from the Republican agenda."

The indictment accused DeLay of a conspiracy to "knowingly make a political contribution" in violation of Texas law outlawing corporate contributions.

Troubles mounting for Bush

The indictment of one of Washington's most powerful politicians is the latest in a string of setbacks that could hamper US President George W. Bush's chances of pushing his agenda through Congress.

Bush has ambitious plans for his second term, notably reforming the federal pension programme and making tax cuts permanent. But his approval rating has slid to 40 per cent range as a slow government response to Hurricane Katrina and the battle to pacify Iraq have weighed Bush down.

"Obviously the president's influence is dictated to some degree by his popularity," said prominent Republican Senator John McCain.

While McCain believes Bush will regain footing as the situation in Iraq improves and the administration gets a handle on the natural disaster, he also said it would be difficult to bring the approval ratings up.

Time could be running out for Bush to implement his plans. While he will be in office through 2008, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate faces re-election in a little over a year.

Currently, Bush's party holds comfortable majorities in both chambers but the president's low popularity coupled with disaffection in the country for Republicans in general could result in an upset victory for the minority Democrats in 2006. Winning just one of the chambers, with the House of Representatives being the more likely, would allow Democrats to block most of Bush's controversial plans.

Bush may also face a slowing economy as a result of the hurricane. Consumer confidence plunged in September, as high petrol prices and the effects of the storm made US consumers less optimistic about the economy's prospects.

On top of these problems, Republicans also have to deal with ethics problems, which are likely to become an important area of attack for Democrats.

Source: China Daily

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